Our column on "The Culture of Personal Irresponsibility" received some unexpected support today from a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, the same newspaper that published the column which prompted our original posting.
Josh Hancock, a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, is dead. He drank, drove and died. Presumably, the drinking started after a game in the clubhouse. So the push is on to ban clubhouse beer, a tradition. Teams are making a statement about Hancock’s death to find reasons and solutions. It’s a nice gesture.
But here’s the thing: Clubhouse beer didn’t kill him.
Josh Hancock killed himself. He chose to drink, chose to drive. And he died.
I’ve railed against the locker-room culture plenty of times. It’s hurtful and hateful. But culture holds hands with personal responsibility.
And personal responsibility comes first. It’s true that Hancock’s decision was comfortable because of the culture he works in. So it’s important to analyze that culture.
But in this case, people are so uncomfortable criticizing a dead man that they’ve decided to focus on the culture as if Hancock were the victim.
He was, I guess, but it was a self-induced crime.
As Couch points out, the locker-room culture of today’s athletes—like the culture as a whole—is often vulgar, narcissistic, and openly exploitative.
But if it is so, I would add, it is because our culture does not sufficiently teach and enforce the value of personal responsibility for our actions. If athletes and others knew that they would have to pay for their misdeeds with something more than an openly insincere apology—say, by losing their lucrative position for a significant period of time—they would be more likely to behave properly, or at least not to misbehave egregiously on a regular basis.
Hancock is not a victim of anybody or anything. He made his own choices, and his drunken driving could easily have killed others. He was a menace to himself and others.
As Couch notes,
Yes, the culture is there. But La Russa spoke to him, someone tried to get him to take a cab. And he made his own decisions. . . .
We all have to look out for each other. But one man was responsible for himself, old enough, at 29, to know the dangers of drinking and driving.
He made his own calls, followed his own path.
They led to a tow truck [into which he crashed his car in a fatal accident].
Taking beer out of baseball clubhouses is a phony response. It is simply another pretense that circustances, not people’s decisions, are responsible for the harm caused by people’s actions. What is even more absurd about such bans is that clubhouse beer had nothing to do with causing Hancock’s death, which occurred nearly seven hours and a couple of tavern visits later.
That means, of course, that the bans are symbolic—and what they symbolize is entirely wrong, as noted above. The premise is in fact the real problem: undermining people’s sense of personal responsibility doesn’t protect them from "mistakes" that "circumstances" somehow force them to blunder into; it exposes them to self-destruction through indulgence of their own passions.
Identifying players who have alcohol problems and requiring them to get help in kicking the habit if they want to play in the big leagues would be a much more direct and actually effective solution. Big, powerful corporations like Major League Baseballe should not allow their employees to become public menaces.
In this regard, the National Football League’s decision to suspend Pacman Jones for a year for a variety of offenses against morals, manners, and human decency is a good step in the right direction. The move came in the wake of prolonged criticism of the vile behavior of many NFL players, and was clearly a response to negative publicity.
That, however, is not a knock against what the NFL did but a very positive thing. That the NFL received negative publicity for the wanton misbehavior of its players is good, and that it responded with some sanctions that send a strong message to those players, are both just right.
The key thing to watch will be whether the NFL will continue to monitor its employees’ behavior and impose sanctions that show it stands for decency, self-control, morality, and manners.
It will be equally interesting to see whether other sports leagues and other prominent institutions follow suit. Don’t hold your breath.